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Why Google is the Beast That Scares Your Industry’s 800-lb. Gorilla (Thinks Out Loud Episode 238)

Google is a beast: Picture of 800lb gorilla

Why Google is the Beast That Frightens Your Industry’s 800-lb. Gorillas (Thinks Out Loud Episode 238) – Headlines and Show Notes

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Why Google is the Beast That Has Your Industry’s 800lb Gorillas Running Scared Transcript

Well, hello again everyone. Welcome back to Thinks Out Loud, your source for all the digital marketing expertise your business needs. My name is Tim Peter. Today is Monday, February 11th, and this is Episode 238 of the big show. I am so thrilled you are here with me again today. I really appreciate it.

I want to open by building on a whole chunk of episodes that we’ve been talking about over the past handful of weeks and months, and it all starts with a news story that I saw not long ago on where Mark Okerstrom, who’s the CEO of Expedia, was talking about how he’s a little scared of Google. He said that Google is their number one competitor. It’s not, it’s not other online travel agencies, it’s not hotel companies, it’s not even Airbnb. It’s Google. He said the internet has been littered with the bodies of companies put out of business by Google, and of course he’s trying to make sure Expedia isn’t one of them.

Now, you have to remember, this is a huge company. They get some 40 million visits a month, at least according to, and are undoubtedly among the top five most important companies in the travel industry easily. More importantly, among the top digitally-native companies in the travel industry. This isn’t somebody who’s quote unquote a “legacy player,” trying to fight off some insurgent or the old story of the couple of guys in a garage who come out of nowhere to take down an incumbent leader. This is a digital-first, digital-native company that is now facing the biggest, most existential challenge it has ever faced by another digital-native, digital-first company that’s been around for about as long as they have. A little bit longer, but not a whole lot longer. And the reason is because Google is the ultimate gatekeeper.

There are a number of players out there who are the big gatekeepers. Google, obviously, and YouTube obviously, and Apple and Facebook. Facebook’s little buddy Instagram and Netflix and Amazon. These are the gatekeepers. They get to decide who lives and who dies based on where they send the customers who start their journeys with them. Let’s be fair, most customers start their journeys either for very specific types of content or very specific types of experiences with one of these folks. Obviously, they are the biggest competitors to one another because they’re competing with one another to be the place that customers start those experiences.

There was a funny story a couple of weeks ago … well, not “funny.” An interesting story about a week ago or so where Apple blocked Facebook and Google from its App Store for a couple of days because those companies broke the rules that Apple had established for what’s allowed in the App Store. Now, imagine if that happened to your business. What that would do to your business? What that would do to your company?

Now, you’ve probably heard people talk about earned, owned, and paid media, and I always ask people to consider when you think about Google or when you think about Facebook or when you think about Instagram, what kind of media are those? Are they earned? Are they owned? Or are they paid?

I frequently heard people say that really they’re all three because obviously if you earn links or you’re in social, trending, that is earned media. You also have your own page on Facebook or your own results on Google, so that’s owned. Of course, you can buy ads, so that’s paid. But I don’t think that’s the right way to think about it. I think that these folks represent none of these categories.

I think that they are leased media, L-E-A-S-E-D media, or maybe rented. It’s kind of like you have an apartment, not like you have a house. Maybe you can hang a few pictures or you can put some paint on the walls, but the walls themselves belong to, if I can mix a metaphor here, the gatekeeper. Do you control what people see on Facebook? No. On Instagram? No. On Google? Hell no. You don’t control any of those. They have an algorithm that says what people see and what people will experience even when they’re looking for your brand, when they’re looking for your business. We’re seeing more and more examples of that.

I’m gonna post a link in the show notes to some tests that Google’s been running where you have to scroll three, four, screens on mobile before you ever see an organic search result. Suddenly, something we’ve taken for granted for a long time is starting to go away. Now, there are some terrible implications here that we’ve talked about before in the episode about digital is like gravity.

Guillaume Chaslot, and I hope I’m pronouncing his name correctly, that’s G-C-H-A-S-L-O-T on Twitter, who works for YouTube, has an amazing thread from earlier today about his work on YouTube’s content recommendation AI and how it regularly offered some truly disturbing and challenging content to viewers. When I say challenging, I don’t mean challenging in the sense of made them think hard. Quite the opposite, it outlined things like Flat Earth videos being promoted 10 times more than ones that talked about the Earth being round. It creates this issue where these folks are deciding what our customers and what are citizens see every day, and that’s got a real challenge in all kinds of ways.

Now, in the interest of what we talk about on the show, what I talk about on the show, I’m gonna keep it to the business side, but obviously that’s incredibly important to recognize the amount of power that these gatekeepers hold with regard to your business. The fact of it is, customers need gatekeepers because they need guideposts to help them find everything that’s out on the internet, everything that exists when they have a problem that needs to be solved. Customers don’t want 50 different gatekeepers. That’s too hard. They’ll settle for just a few. In fact, they kind of have to because if there are 50 different gatekeepers, then they need another source to say, “Which of those 50 is appropriate for the specific challenge they have?” Which then means all we’re doing is creating one more gatekeeper and one bigger gatekeeper.

That’s one of the reasons that digital often means you have to get big or go niche, which is something Hal Varian and Carl Shapiro pointed out in their fantastic book Information Rules, and something I’ve talked about plenty of times because, A, I think it’s a great book, and, B, I think they’re right. It’s also one of the reasons why everything becomes a service in digital. It’s all about ease of access to information and products and services, but as I just described a moment ago, that’s also literally where the gatekeepers come from. They exist because customers need it to be easy to find the products and services that they want. If you make a product or you make a service, you have to exist in the universe of the gatekeeper or else they’ll never find you. Your customers will never find you.

Now, how do you compete with that? Well, I’ve talked before about how you can compete with Amazon and places like that, but I want to take a step back and say more generically what you need to do with regard to gatekeepers.

There are really about five different things.

First, don’t put all your eggs in one basket. Years ago, I worked for a hotel company. I worked for a luxury hotel company and we ranked very well for search terms like “luxury hotels” and “extraordinary hotels” and things like that. Of course, the economic downturn came and our traffic dried up because we relied heavily on Google and especially organic search for the vast majority of our traffic.

Now, we knew that was a problem. We knew we had too many eggs in one basket there. Unfortunately the economy kicked us in the rear end before we had a chance to do anything about it because when the economic downturn happened, people stopped searching for “luxury hotels”. They started searching for “cheap hotels” and “discount hotels” and “really cheap hotels” and “really, really cheap hotels”. As somebody who worked for the company noted at the time, Google sneezed and we caught a cold.

You have to look at a channel mix that makes for … For your business that works for you business. Try to grow smaller channels like social or referral or email and I mean really email to represent, A, a healthy share of your business, and also to grow at a faster rate than you might from places like organic search or paid search because you want to mix where all your traffic sources come from so that no one gatekeeper can choke off your business completely.

The second is you have to own your own content because if you don’t … We’ve said many times before … I’ve said many times before that content is king, and if you don’t have content, you don’t have search. If you don’t have content, you don’t have social because there’s nothing for your customers to share. To get that healthy channel mix I mentioned a moment ago, you have to make sure that you have things to offer in those various channels, so think about the content that your customers need and the places that they consume it that you can help them find that you are the right answer to their problem when they need a product or they need a service.

You also need to support other channels that challenge the big gatekeeper. Most importantly, you’re not looking for Google #2. You’re not looking for Facebook #2. You’re looking for, where are those places where your customers congregate that maybe aren’t the big gatekeepers? It doesn’t matter if some social site or some vertical search is small overall. It matters if they’re able to reach the people you want to reach.

The fourth thing you need to do is make sure you play nice with the beasts that … They’re the 800-pound gorillas … Obviously, you want to make sure you show up on Google. You want to make sure you show up on Facebook. You want to make sure you adapt to their changing products. As Google does more with local search or does more with featured snippets, as it does more with InfoBoxes. You want to make sure you show up in those places for the right customers and for the right search.

However, and this is number five, you also should ask whether everything Google asks for you to do is good for your business. Obviously, you want to play nice with these giant beasts with these giant gatekeepers. You also want to make sure that you’re doing what’s right for your business. If you look at AMP pages, they’re not necessarily a good thing for every business. Sure, they’re great for Google, but are they good for you? Make sure you’re looking at whether you should participate in the various programs that Google and Facebook and Amazon and the other gatekeepers offer. Do they really help your business? Or do they only benefit the gatekeeper themselves?

Don’t put all your eggs in one basket. Make sure you own your own content. Support other channels that challenge the big gatekeepers. Yes, play nice with them, but also ask whether everything they ask for is good for you. If you do that, you put yourself in a good position to manage your relationship with the gatekeepers and succeed even as they continue to grow.

Now, looking at the clock on the wall, we are out of time for this week, but I’d like to remind you that you can find the show notes for today’s episode as well as an archive of all our episodes by going to Again, that’s Just look for Episode 238. While you’re there, you can click on the Subscribe link in any of the episodes that you find there to have Thinks Out Loud delivered to your favorite podcatcher every single week. You can also subscribe in iTunes or the Google Play Music Store or Stitcher Radio or whatever your favorite podcatcher happens to be. Just do a search for “Tim Peter Thinks”, “Tim Peter Thinks Out Loud”, or “Thinks Out Loud”. We should show up for any of those.

I’d also very much appreciate it if you could provide us a positive rating or review while you’re there. It would be so helpful to me. I’d also like to thank our sponsor. Thinks Out Loud is brought to by Solo Segment. Solo Segment focuses on AI-driven content discovery and site search analytics to unlock revenue for your business. You can learn more about how to improve your content, your customer satisfaction, and make your search smarter by going to

You can also find Thinks Out Loud on Facebook by going to You can find me on Twitter using the Twitter handle @tcpeter, or of course you can email me. Just send an email to Again, that’s

With that, I want to say thanks again so much for tuning in. I very much appreciate it. I hope you have a wonderful week ahead, a great weekend, and I look forward to speaking with you here on Thinks Out Loud again next time. Until then, please be well, be safe, and of course as ever, take care everybody.

Tim Peter is the founder and president of Tim Peter & Associates. You can learn more about our company's strategy and digital marketing consulting services here or about Tim here.

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